As I mentioned in my last post, the end of Tuesday’s session was very difficult for me.
Although I’d found the courage to tell the therapist about my dream and ask her specifically to never hurt me in that manner, I also felt rejected and ashamed. As I walked out of her office, I felt myself begin to panic. I felt heat rising to my face and my heart was racing. I couldn’t quite figure out what I was even panicking about. There was just this sense that I’d done something wrong; that I’d fucked this up somehow.
I walked to the train as composed as possible and grabbed a seat as soon as one was available. I closed my eyes and tried to just breathe. Once we were above ground and I had cell service again, I seriously considered calling the therapist to leave a message. And I probably would have called if I wasn’t in the middle of a crowded rush-hour train.
Instead, I waited until I walked in my front door and then called. I didn’t even pre-script what I would say (which is extremely rare for me), so my voicemail went something like this:
Hi, it’s Andi. I’m just calling to apologize: I’m sorry for being such a spaz. I’m sorry I was so dramatic. I’m sorry I wouldn’t speak and then when I did say something, it didn’t make any sense. I’m sorry I just sat there. I’m sorry I didn’t get up from the chair when I was supposed to. I’m sorry I thought such awful things about you. I’m sorry I’m such a fuck up. I don’t know what’s wrong with me and I never mean to be that way. This is just such a mess and that sucks. And now I’m panicking, so can you please call me back so we can talk about this?
Yeah. Not my best moment. But at least it was honest.
She called back within ten minutes and was just as calm and even-keeled as ever. I repeated some of the stuff I’d left in the voicemail and then I told her I felt really stupid. She asked if I could identify what, specifically, I felt stupid about. I told her it was about the end of session – about asking her to promise me that she wouldn’t hurt me. And about being so dramatic about this dumb dream.
She said, “I didn’t think it was stupid and I don’t think you’re stupid. I thought it was very brave of you to share that. I know it was difficult for you, but it’s really important that we talk about this, so I’m very glad you brought it to share with me.”
“I was trying to be brave, but I don’t feel brave. I feel terrified.”
“Of course you’re feeling scared and upset about asking for what you needed. I think this dream hits on some very real trauma from your life and that would definitely be scary. But I’m really glad you were able to tell me what you needed and be that explicit with me about it because I know that you really do need to be reassured that I won’t hurt you in that way.”
“Yeah. True. But like you said (in session), it’s just a dream. So I don’t know why it upsets me so much or even what it means.”
“I think it probably reflects your fears around our relationship. Historically, intimacy was very dangerous for you. As we get closer and our relationship becomes more intimate, it makes sense that you would begin to feel a lot of different things, including scared.”
That actually made a LOT of sense to me. I felt myself begin to relax a little.
Then I told her that I was worried about our relationship. I started crying and said, “I’m just so scared I’m going to ruin this!” and in the most gentle tone ever, she said “I know…I know.”
Then she asked me to talk more about that worry. I explained that I often feel as though clinicians have this trajectory in mind for my treatment. And I can match them, intellectually, at every mark. But emotionally, I’m always so far behind. So I generally end up in this position where I’m not progressing the way they imagined I would. Or they suddenly realize that I’m much further behind than they’d realized.
This is what happened with my previous therapists. They were listening to me speak and hearing me make all of these connections and synthesizing information to propel myself forward. I was making a lot of progress, for sure, but not in the linear fashion they’d pictured. So there’s always this point where I take a few steps back and they’re just standing there, throwing their hands up and thinking “What the hell?!”
I said to the therapist, “So I think this is where you and I disconnect. I can keep up with you, intellectually, but I am so far behind on an emotional level. If I’m processing things in a rational manner, that’s definitely helpful, but I’m not quite internalizing it yet. And I’m too scared to explain that although I understand this stuff with my logical brain, I don’t really believe it in my heart. And that lag is what holds me back. It’s what brings me to that place where I’m suddenly deteriorating and everyone is totally caught off guard.”
“Your intellect is your strong point, for sure. I think that has been a gift that has gotten you through a lot of very difficult things. We all, to some degree, are in a different place emotionally than we are intellectually, so that is not unusual. But, also, I think you’re shifting into a place where you’re beginning to process things with more emotion. And I think that’s why you’re struggling so much to find your words and why this feels so foreign and scary to you.”
“Yes. That’s very true. But I just don’t want to disappoint you. I don’t want you to think I’m making a certain amount of progress only to realize I’m not. I have this tendency to make therapists feel helpless too many times, to the point that it becomes intolerable to them and they bail. I don’t want to do that to you. I don’t want you to feel helpless.”
“I hear you. But “progress” – what even is that? I think that’s a concept very open for interpretation. And of course it’s not linear or exactly as we’d like it to be, but you’re moving forward. You’re making progress – you made progress today!”
I audibly sighed and told her I was so glad she wasn’t disappointed. She said that she was not disappointed at all and was instead very impressed with the work I do, which was a huge relief to hear. I was feeling much calmer, so I glanced at my phone and realized we’d been on the phone for twenty minutes already. At that point I felt like the most urgent concerns had been addressed and the rest of this conversation could happen in session, so I said, “Alright. I’m going to let you go now. But there’s one more thing I want to say…”
“I want to answer your question again (from session, when she asked if I thought three sessions was working)…Yes. I DO feel like three sessions is the right fit. But I didn’t want to give that to you today. I didn’t want to say that out loud because I’m so mad about how right you were about session frequency.”
“So you didn’t want me to gloat?”
We both laughed. I thanked her for calling me back and she said she’d see me on Friday.
It was hard for me to have this conversation with her, but I’m glad that I called her. And although my voicemail seems sorta pathetic now that I’m reading it back to myself, I don’t regret it. Those thoughts were absolutely real at the moment and being able to talk to her – to “fact-check” and find out what she actually thinks (versus the horrible things I imagine she thinks) – is a really big deal.